When South Korea came in the picture, first thing came to me if there were any chance of me visiting North Korea without any harm or threat towards myself. Of course, I did my research while I planned my trip to Seoul and I learned more about Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where Clinton quoted ” Scariest place on Earth.”
Back when I was younger, I told myself I’d never dare set foot on the land of the most isolated and ruthless country, North Korea when I first learned about the history of what North Korea had done to South Korea. But how I perceive things in my life changed throughout my journey since I began this blog, so I became open about what each country had to offer as a country in whole. I realized that always enjoy learning and comparing the attributes of my country to theirs. I felt that it would help me understand the world better.
What is Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)?
DMZ is an area that is considered neutral territory because neither side is allowed to control it, even for non-combat administration. However, it’s the place that groups are not allowed to install any military, activities or personnel. It’s usually established frontier or boundary between two or more military powers or alliance.
North Korea and South Korea has agreed to maintain military forces by having the demilitarization of a zone without desiring to claim a territorial, a way of saying that it’s their way of creating a peaceful settlement.
Not only that, when you search DMZ in google, you would be also listed to different tours. So, I went with one of tours, the Panmunjom Travel Center (PTC). The experience I had with them was very pleasing. They were very friendly and understanding through the emails while I communicated them of me being Deaf and booked the tour the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where I get to see the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, Dora Observatory, Dorasan train station, and Imjingak
When the day came, I rushed to their office on the 6th floor of Lotte Hotel and I missed my breakfast. I arrived in time to get on the bus, and the guide was very kind and she gave me a brochure and a book that would fill me in on everything that will occur in the tour. The guide was very communicative and wrote in English.
I hopped on the bus and I realized that my stomach was growling for the breakfast I missed. I couldn’t ignore it, so I asked the guide to see if it were possible for they to stop by a convenience store, or something where I could get something to eat. The guide asked the driver in their native language, but a Korean lady behind me overheard the request. She kindly jumped in and offered her donuts. I was surprised, but I wanted to be polite and declined the offer at first. She insisted, so I took the offer. I thanked her then ate them up. I decided to start a conversation with her with the guide who translate for us as she doesn’t know English at all.
In the conversation, I learned that she was from North Korea then I asked her how she moved to South Korea. The conversation was eye-opening for me. I learned about the life experience in North Korea before she escaped through the DMZ. She suffered pain and hunger. She explained that she always had been shivering like hell while she was there. She felt like she was about to die, so she decided to take the risk to escape through the DMZ fence. She knew the risk of dying while attempting to get out of the country.
Bottom line: North Korea is a strictly isolated country. They would not let imports come in at all, so the resources they have are very limited. That was the reason why the lady decided to sneak out of the country and unbelievable she is now working in North Korea.
Honestly, I would have done the same if I had gone through all of that in North Korea. Then I told her that my hats goes to her and she thanked me for the thoughts I made out to her.
I admired her selflessness. That conversation had me pondering about how ungreedy she had been even though she went through plenty of hardship in North Korea. That showed how she dedicated her time to make sure that nobody experienced what she had experienced. She did that. I couldn’t be any more appreciative of what she had done.
When I arrived at the Odusan Unification Observatory, the guide took the group to a room where we all watched a short movie before going up to the observatory. I didn’t pay attention because there weren’t any subtitles for the English voiceover in the movie.
Anyways, as soon as I came up to the observatory, I paid 600 KRW (approximately 50 cents in US Dollar) to watch the city in North Korea through one of their telescopes. I was amazed by the view and how close I could see the city through the telescopes.
I could literally see armed soldiers standing, people walking through the cities, cars driving on the streets, farmers carrying heavy loads on their back, and more that I couldn’t describe here. The guide told me that I would be able to see the pole where stands for the location of the burial of the Kim dynasty.
Other than that, I could see all of the buildings being out-dated, all worn out and bummed out. I couldn’t leave my telescope and the tour had to drag me by the foot to the bus! Well, maybe I exaggerate that a little… She actually had to prompt me and urged me to rush to the bus though.
We went to the North Korean Life Experience Hall exhibition hall where there were different displays of historical documents and timeline of DMZ. Deeper I go into the exhibition, I found a model of the North Korean city that I saw through the telescopes. I could see the map of the city. It showed many different things like where armed soldiers stand, where their bombs were located, and many more. The design was pretty nice to me, by the way.
Another room showed the products they had in North Korea like beer, food, clothes, etc. First thing I noticed in the product is that they were all about Kim, nothing else. The Kim dynasty is the face of North Korea, pretty much.
They did not allow creativity in their brands like we could in America. They focus on the Kim dynasty as the brand. That showed a lot about their communistic government.
The tour led us to next room where they had a display with pieces of three different separation barriers from other countries in the world. One was from Berlin Wall, and one was from Yemen Wall, but I didn’t catch the third one.
The purpose of that display was to symbol the goal of South Korea reuniting with North Korea. South Korea wanted to be one of those walls that had been taken down to reunite as a country.
I read in the book that North Korea had been very resistant with reuniting with the South. Even though North Korea had done horrible things to the South, South Korea still wanted to become one country with the North. Clearly, that wouldn’t happen anytime soon because North Korea had a very complicated and tied communism policies where South Korea had hard time complying, so they still had been in dicussion of reunification through South Korea’s Ministry of Unification though.
Although the reunification might seem hopeless in the near future, but South Korea still had faith in the long term.
Korea is the only country that had a separate country for the North and South
We all went to the Dorasan Station, the railway station situated on the Gyeongui Line, which once connected North and South Korea and had now been restored. An exhibition on a train that was destroyed by North Korea as you can see the bullets and the ruins from the explosion of the old railway where a new railway was built next to it.
The tour of that railway was simple and short, so we went to have lunch at Bulgogi.
When the group was finished with lunch, we went to visit the Dora Observatory where the sight of North Korea was much more closer and I could a close up to the city, fence and their flags where they clearly emphasized the country of North Korea. The feeling there was so surreal. There were goosebumps all over me when I was at the dock. The view was absorbing for me.
We got on the bus and went to visit the Third Infiltration Tunnel. The tunnel was just amazing. They had restricted the tour to go through half of the tunnel though, but it was so deep and huge. I had to wear a helmet before entering the tunnel. The walk down the tunnel was far and long! The North Korean lady that offered me breakfast earlier walked with and I could see that she was exhausted from walking. So was I.
I was so amazed with the construction of the tunnel and how huge it was. I couldn’t imagine how long they took to dig that. Well, that tunnel weren’t the only tunnel, it had been one of four tunnels build back then to invade Seoul, but that is way over though and Seoul got their land back.
At the end of the steep tunnel, the tunnel leveled and I started walking on a flat level. The tunnel became smaller and the ceiling was lower. Few times my helmet hit a bump from the ceiling. As soon as we reached the half way point, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel where you could see North Korea. When we were done, we walked back.
I wish I had pictures but they didn’t allow cameras—sorry about that! They had that policy to prevent any kind of communication from the outside in case of spies.
The tour was very powerful for me. I got back on the bus and headed back to the Lotte Hotel where the tour ended. My mind was full of thought about what it had been like in North Korea and how privileged I am to be an American. I thought about how lucky I had been to witness this.
I wish I could visit the Joint Security Area (JSA) as they were highly recommended by the Koreans I met and the research I had before coming to South Korea. Unfortunately, it was not available, and the tour to JSA required an advance reservation and an application screening before confirmation. By the time I contacted them, I was too late. So, make sure you don’t make the same mistake as I did and plan ahead when you’re coming to South Korea.
Don’t get me wrong. The experience I had with the tour was very eye-opening, but I wanted to be able to cross the border and face the soldiers from North Korea in JSA as I was told t hat it is the most important and the main part of the whole separation barrier. The tour to DMZ is more of the history of the fence itself, how it started, and the war between the North and South. So, it depends on what you prefer to see and learn about.
Even though I hadn’t gone to the JSA, but I would recommend you to go there instead of DMZ based on what I learned from my researches and Korean friends.
Nothing can replace this experience, but I will come back to visit the JSA one day.
To see the ASL version of this post, please go to our Facebook video post.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Panmunjom Travel Center (PTC). I received a free tour package in exchange of this blog review. All opinions are my own.